We as soldiers experience and witness some crazy s**t in certain dark corners of this planet and some soldiers really have been to hell on earth.
I spent a period of my time in Afghanistan operating alongside Jody Samways and it has been six years now since I have seen or spoken to him. In fact, the last time I saw Jody, was in Afghanistan, 2011.
I was keen to hear from his perspective of what we went through.
“We had a really good tour because our multiple (team) regularly bounced from location to location, so we were able to experience a lot of Afghan”.
“The only thing I struggled with on tour was when our teammate got blown up and a fellow soldier was crying and shouting my name. That was the only thing I struggled with when I returned from Afghan, it wasn’t the fact that our teammate had been blown up, it was because my mate was shouting my name. That’s what I remember”.
Jody goes into more detail about his experience in Afghanistan.
“We were crossing over a T-junction and it was in the middle of summer which meant the ground was really dry and compacted, so you would have thought it to be easy to identify any ground sign of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). I was kneeling beside a bush and I could hear one of my teammates talking on the other side, I couldn’t see him but it sounded like he was only ten feet away. I called out to him and then seconds later, ‘BOOM!‘”
When you hear an IED go off, the first thing that comes to your mind is who was it and how bad is it?
“I threw my daysack on instantly and ran straight round to where the explosion had gone off. I looked down and I could see one casualty on the floor and across the junction, I could see one of my men sitting in a ditch crying. I was stood there with one of our guys blown up, an interpreter who was crying and a s**ty stretcher that wouldn’t assemble”. (Jody and I laughed)
“One of my private soldiers kept shouting, ‘Sammy, help me‘ but I couldn’t help him at the time, I needed to get the casualty out first and I needed to get him out of there quick”.
“To have this unnamed soldier who had a reputation for being the tough one now crying in my arms hit me and it was then that I realised, ‘f**k, this is real‘. He was hugging me and telling me to get him home to his son. It was so s**t”.
That is some incredible pressure to have upon your shoulders for any man or woman in that position of command. To get your blokes out of that situation and to extract the casualty as quickly as possible.
“My two strongest private soldiers were now crying. You’re not meant to see the things that we see. The human brain isn’t designed to process what we go through”.
“We had to extract the casualty through a field that was knee-deep in mud. The casualties legs didn’t get completely blown off and it wasn’t a clean-cut. He still had all of the bones right down to his ankles but the bottom half of his legs were clean bone, not even a drop of blood”.
“The private soldier who was initially crying in a ditch now came into his own and stepped up to the mark, picking up the stretcher from the rear and driving the casualty forward. The casualty nearly fell off the stretcher resulting in the private having to grab the casualty by the bone to support him back on the stretcher”.
“when we put the casualty on the helicopter, he said ‘Take my watch‘”…
“I still can’t watch the first opening scene of ‘Saving Private Ryan‘, it makes me feel sick. It doesn’t bother me to think about it, but watching things like that brings back memories and I’d rather not watch a film that makes me think about s**t times”.
I’m personally quite fortunate to not suffer from any form of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) but I for some reason become much more emotionally connected when watching certain films like that. When I see a key character in a war film get killed and I observe the emotions flowing in the film, I sometimes get a lump in my throat. I would at times get tears in my eyes and I would sit there thinking ‘what the f**k is wrong with me‘, but I think that’s because we have a good understanding of what these horrific events would feel like and we can relate to them.
You have told me previously that you struggled for two years when returning home from Afghanistan, is it because of this particular event that you struggled?
“I think what I struggled with most, was coming home from tour and integrating back into normal life. I just felt a bit like, ‘f**king hell, does anyone actually understand what we went through out there‘. It’s like trying to turn a lion into a sheep”.
“I don’t feel as though the blokes got enough recognition when we returned home from tour. There was no ‘well done‘ for that day”.
In 2015, Jody felt that it was time to pull the plug on his Army career.
“It took two years after returning home from Afghanistan to find my feet and get back to my normal self. I was ok when I initially left the forces but after the first six months, I began to struggle. It doesn’t hit you straight away because you initially enjoy the freedom but then you realise that you were actually part of something much bigger”.
“It is hard and although it feels amazing to be out, I constantly think about going back in. But when we think about going back in, we only consider the good times. For example; when we were out on tour smashing it. We tend to forget about the s**t times like working down the sheds at two ‘o’ clock on a Friday afternoon”.
That is something that we veterans tend to have in common, feeling that initial concept of freedom which later then becomes a moment of realisation when you think ‘f**k, what have I walked into‘. It is bizarre how we only remember the good times because there were certainly more s**t times than good times.
“Last year I felt like I was still missing something and Afghan was still having an effect on me. I was angry and I needed to do something, so I turned to mixed martial arts”.
Do you believe that mixed martial arts has provided you with a sense of purpose?
“When you are out there, in Afghanistan, our job as a Corporal was massive. A platoon of men would rely on you to prepare them for war. In ‘civvy street’, I’ve now found myself doing a s**t job like roofing and I wanted more, something bigger than that”.
“Having said that, I’ve never struggled for work, I’ve always been capable of getting a job. Some soldiers are adamant that there is no work outside of the Armed Forces but there is s**t loads of work, it’s just a case of how bad you want it. Some veterans say there are no jobs on the outside but there are hundreds and thousands of jobs, we as veterans just don’t want to settle for certain employment roles”.
This is a good point raised by Jody. There are many opportunities for employment out here in the civilian world but not all civilian jobs fulfil a veteran’s needs. Speaking from a personal perspective, veterans want to feel a sense of achievement, progress and a sense of purpose.
I also believe that most veterans find it difficult to let go of the previous positions within a rank structure. I was once a section commander leading men into combat in order to destroy the enemy and then I became a lorry driver who was on the receiving end of hot-headed boss barking orders at me on a daily basis.
Do you feel that taking part mixed martial arts has helped you to zero in and focus?
“It definitely helps me focus and there is no more drinking or anything negative like that. I needed something exciting in my civilian life, something to spice it up a bit”.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone leaving the Armed Forces, what would you say?
“The grass might not be greener when you first get out but it does get there, it’s fresh turf. You have to build that life again and give it a chance, give different things a chance and don’t be afraid to try different jobs. Don’t just sit in a job if you’re not happy, give things a go” – Jody Samways
There were many key points that I was able to take away from this conversation with Jody but I would like to highlight two that I feel may be extremely beneficial for other veterans.
1. I believe that it is probably healthy to have a passionate hobby to help you zero in and focus your mind. I have found over the years during my personal transition from soldier to civilian, that if my life consisted of nothing else but working in a boring nine to five job, I would slip into a pit of depression and it was unhealthy for my state of mind.
So having a passionate hobby like Jody does in Mixed Martial Arts, will hopefully break the monotony of a nine to five lifestyle.
2. I have been bouncing in and out of different jobs for the last five years and at one point in my transition, I have even been unemployed.
Although I have yet to find the right job for me, it is ok because I now see these jobs as stepping stones. We have to cross these stepping stones in order to get to where we want to be and you never know, one of these stepping stones might well be the right job for you. But if we don’t at least try different jobs, we’ll never find what we’re looking for.
So keep pushing forward and keep trying new things, don’t settle for a job that you are not happy in.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this week’s blog and I hope that you were able to find a golden nugget from the read.
If you know other veterans who may benefit from this blog, then please feel free to share it with them.
Jamie and featured veteran, Jody Samways.
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